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Hepatitis - A

WHAT IS HEPATITIS A?

Hepatitis A is one of the most widespread infectious diseases worldwide. It is caused by the hepatitis A virus and is common in places with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. The virus attacks the liver and causes varying degrees of illness in patients.

HOW IS HEPATITIS A TRANSMITTED?

The hepatitis A virus is excreted in the faeces, and spreads primarily by the faecal-oral route. The virus has a relatively long and infectious incubation period. Hence, the infected individual can pass on the disease to others even before the symptoms develop. Hepatitis A in children under 2 years is often unrecognized; thus they can be a potential source of infection. Direct contact with an infected person's faeces or indirect contamination of food, water, hands and cooking utensils may result in the virus being ingested, causing infection.

WHAT ARE THE SOURCES OF INFECTION?

A common source of infection is contaminated water or food, especially raw or insufficiently cooked food (fruits, salad, vegetables, seafood, etc.) Food which is well cooked but handled by infected individuals can also be a source of infection. The infection may also be acquired through close contact with infected individuals within families, schools, daycare centres and hostels.

HOW SERIOUS CAN HEPATITIS A INFECTION BE?

The severity of infection is age related withsymptoms being more common in adolescents & adults than very young children. Acute symptoms last for 4 weeks to 3 months and may be debilitating requiring total rest and occasionally hospitalization. This causes disruption of daily activities and often leads to absence from work / school. Complete recovery can take as long as 6-12 months, with serious and occasionally fatal complications occurring in minority of patients. Hepatitis A can relapse in 20% of cases who acquire the disease, and the symptoms may persist for upto 6 months. The negative influence on roductivity and quality of life though unmeasured can be quite high.

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WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS A?

Symptoms include nausea/vomiting, Jaundice (yellowness of eyes, skin & urine), diarrhea, pale stools, abdominal pain, malaise/fatigue, fever/chills, lack of appetite, sore throat, etc. The frequency/severity with which these symptoms occur, vary depending on the age of the person.

DOES HEPATITIS A POSE A SERIOUS THREAT TO THE HEALTH OF YOUNG CHILDREN?

Though hepatitis A is considered to be a relatively benign disease in young children, this may not always be the case. Children present more atypical signs and severe gastrointestinal symptoms than adults. There is evidence to suggest that over 60% of 2-5 years olds develop jaundice with associated dark urine and pale stools. The significant health risk thatof viral hepatitis caused by different viruses. While the hepatitis A is transmitted mainly through contaminated food & water, the hepatitis B virus may be passed on through blood, sexual contact or from the infected mother to the newborn.

Jaundice - i.e., yellowness of eyes, skin and urine can be an early symptom of both hepatitis A and hepatitis B , though hepatitis A is the single largest cause of Jaundice.

CAN HEPATITIS A BE PREVENTED?

Immunoglobulins can be administered to provide temporary protection for 3-5 months. Since regular injections are required to maintain protection, this option is expensive.

A vaccine is now available and is the most practical means of protection against hepatitis A. Primary vaccination protects the person for up to one year and a booster dose administered after 6 months provides predicted protection for at least 20 years.

IF I'VE BEEN VACCINATED AGAINST hepatitis B, AM I ALSO PROTECTED AGAINST HEPATITIS A?

No. Each type of hepatitis is different. Vaccination against hepatitis B does not protect from hepatitis A, and vice versa.

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